Born GulamRasool Dar in a lower middle class Shia Muslim family in Srinagar, Kashmir, the self-taught artist took on his wife’s Hindu name ‘Santosh’ as his own, in a move opposing patriarchy and religion. His father’s death propelled a young Santosh into early work as a signboard painter, papier-mache artist and weaver. He learnt to paint watercolour landscapes from Dina Nath Raina in Kashmir before studying under the eminent painter N. S. Bendre at M. S. University in Baroda. During his sojourn in Baroda, he produced a large body of work, both figurative as well as landscapes, mainly in the cubist style.
In Kashmir, Santosh found inspiration in the Hindu and Buddhist tantric cults that had coexisted with the region’s Sufi mysticism for centuries. On a visit to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir in 1964, Santosh had a deeply moving spiritual experience that made him turn towards tantra. Driven by a deep rooted esoteric worldview based on the primordial purusha-prakriti concept of cosmic creation, he created forms that fused the sexual and the transcendental. He started painting in what came to be known later as the neo-tantric form or school. An acclaimed writer and poet in Kashmiri, Santosh built his pictorial and poetic world around this transcendental philosophy. Writing in Kashmiri and Urdu, Santosh attained acclaim as a novelist and poet, and wrote extensively on the tantric philosophy in English.
Recognition for Santosh came from Lalit Kala Akademi, the state governments of Madhya Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, the Sahitya Kala Parishad, AIFACS, and the Government of India, the latter in the form of the Padma Shri.